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Alone in the Wilderness

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In 1950, Richard Proennke, an Iowa native, fresh from military service, landed in Alaska with plans of starting a cattle ranch on Shuyak Island. The cattle ranch didn’t work out, but he stayed in Alaska working on the Kodiak Naval base and a variety of other jobs over the next seventeen years. At age 52, after spending a few weeks at a cabin in the Twin Lakes area, he decided to retire and move into the Alaskan wilderness for what was originally to be a year long stay. Richard built a cabin from the ground up and lived alone with the Alaskan wildlife for most of the rest of his life. He kept extensive journals and recorded movies of animals and his daily adventures throughout his experience. The journals became the basis for the 1973 book, One Man’s Wilderness by Sam Keith. The movies gradually deteriorated in storage until they were rescued by independent filmmaker Bob Swerer, who met Richard while shooting footage in Alaska for another project. Bob, with the help of Richard’s nephew as narrator, compiled the movies reels into sixty minutes of amazing documentary footage. With the movies a backdrop and Richard’s copious journal entries as subtext, the story of a man who walked away from the modern world to pursue life in the Alaskan back country is an amazing documentary. I first saw part of Alone in the Wilderness on PBS while channel surfing and was immediately sucked in. I’m not sure what compelled Richard Proennke to document everything he did in both movies and text, but the result is a glimpse at nature and the daily life of a man we wouldn’t normally meet. If you love a good story or are nostalgic for a simpler time, you owe it to yourself to watch Alone in the Wilderness at least once.
Run Time: 60 minutes
Director: Bob Swerer
Starring: Richard Proenneke
Rating: G
DVD Release Date: 2003

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